David Phelps, Derek Lowe, and the rotation

Heathcott makes up for lost time
Yankees sign two Nicaraguan left-handers
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

The Yankees have dealt with what seems like an inordinate number of injuries this season, the latest of which has taken CC Sabathia out of the rotation for 15 days for the second time this season. The team more than survived his first DL stint — in part because it was sandwiched around the All-Star break — and are hoping for more of the same the second time around. Treading water would be fine in my book.

Taking Sabathia’s start tonight is David Phelps, who has emerged as a pretty important setup-type reliever since being recalled from Triple-A about three weeks ago. The recently signed Derek Lowe will join the bullpen and serve as the new long man. Phelps has made three spot starts this year and told reporters yesterday that he’s good for 75-80 pitches tonight, but we’ll see. The Rangers and their swings will tell us exactly when Phelps is running out of gas, and frankly I would be surprised if he makes it through five full innings against that lineup.

That’s part of the reason why I wonder if the Yankees are better off running Lowe out there for the start while keeping their young right-hander in the bullpen for the time being. Both Sabathia and the team insist that he will return to the rotation after the minimum 15 days, meaning he’s only going to miss two starts. Rather than having Phelps available as a potential two-inning setup arm during these next two weeks, the Yankees will have him as a four or maybe five inning starter* for two games. Given the recent struggles of Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova as well as Freddy Garcia’s generally short leash, having a strong multi-inning reliever is an obvious boon.

Now obviously the problem here is that Lowe is terrible. He pitched to an 8.80 ERA (4.86 FIP) with more walks (27) than strikeouts (26) in his last dozen starts and 60.1 IP for the Indians, and I have a hard time thinking he’ll be much better with the uniform change. Granted, an 8.80 ERA is quite extreme and he might not be that bad going forward, but I wouldn’t expect much. Replacement level. That sounds about right, and you don’t really want that guy in the rotation. The thing is that with two starts, anything can happen. We know he’ll be bad over the long haul, but not necessarily in one or two individual games.

Given all the injuries, the Yankees don’t have many alternatives to bolster their pitching staff in Sabathia’s absence right now. It’s either Phelps on a pitch count or Lowe, who they could run into the ground without a care in the world. Adam Warren did start for Triple-A Empire State yesterday, so he’s definitely not an option. Are the Yankees better off using Phelps for his four or maybe five innings tonight and then again on Saturday while Lowe masquerades as the long man, or by running Lowe out there for the two starts while having Phelps available as needed in relief? I don’t know the right answer, but I do think the Yankees are better off with the latter.

This isn’t Joba Chamberlain all over again — that was a completely different animal. I wanted Joba to remain a starter long-term because I felt that’s where he would provide the greatest impact. I do feel the same way about Phelps, but he’s already in the bullpen and this is the middle of the season. The Yankees have what we really hope is a temporary, two-start hole to plug. If they needed a starter for the rest of the season, then by all means stick the kid in the rotation. But for two starts? I don’t see the big deal, especially since he’s turned into such an important part of the relief corps. Plus I dislike the constant changing of roles, though perhaps that is just a stigma from Joba.

Either way, the starting rotation is taking a big hit with the loss of Sabathia. I’m not sure that compounding the problem by weakening the bullpen is the best solution, especially given the general shakiness surrounding some of the other rotation spots at the moment. Lowe’s almost certainly going to get pounded regardless of role, and there’s a chance Phelps will as a starter as well given the quality of the competition* and his pitch limits. I’d rather just keep the kid in the bullpen and maximize his impact by using him in medium-to-high-leverage spots throughout the week rather than just once every five days with Sabathia on the shelf.

The goal at the big league level is to win games, and I think we sometimes forget that because we want our prospect crushes validated. Especially with a guy like Phelps, a non-top prospect who essentially comes in as an underdog. Those guys are easy to fall in love with. Replacing Phelps with Lowe in the bullpen is a clear downgrade, a big enough one that I don’t think starting a limited Phelps over an unlimited Lowe makes it worth it for the Yankees. I think it could turn out to be a net negative in short order, especially if Hughes decides not complete five innings again or they get stuck in an extra-innings game at some point this week. The Yankees just have to rearrange some pitching furniture during Sabathia’s absence, not rob Peter to pay Paul.

* After tonight’s start against the Rangers, Phelps lines up to start against the Red Sox. So yeah, he’s running into two great offenses with some kind of pitch limit. No ideal.

Heathcott makes up for lost time
Yankees sign two Nicaraguan left-handers
  • Robert

    If you start DLowe we might as well forfiet the game…. Youth must be served Lets relax and give Phelps the start….5 quality ininngs tonite and 7 quality ininngs next week and we have ourselves a young Starter for the future, afar more valuable commodity than a long reliever.

    • El Maestro

      +1. Let the kid start.

    • Pisano

      I agree with Robert 100%, this kid is going to be a solid #3 starter, so I say start easing him in asap.

  • Eddard

    Phelps will be just fine. He’s actually an upgrade over 3/5 of the rotation(Freddy, Hughes, Nova). Lowe is a proven veteran and will give us a much needed boost just as Ichiro and Ibanez have done. Cashman is a wizard at picking up these proven veterans who are valuable come October. Every year it’s someone new.

    • Jrivera12

      Very concerned with the state of Yankees starting rotation. Sabathia is no longer a true ace in the model of a Verlander, Hernandez, Weaver, etc. Nova is garbage, as is Hughes, and Garcia. Pettite is over the hill, as is Lowe. The only consistent pitcher they have is Koruda, and he is no ace either. Cashman had chance to add a solid starter and decided to stick with this sorry a.. rotation….good luck!!

      • Get Phelps Up

        I want to think this isn’t serious.

        • Bunt Gardner

          Maybe it’s Eddard arguing with himself?

        • jjyank

          Sadly, I think it is.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I’d like to think anything about GPU’s comment isn’t serious.

            Phelps is the empty chair.

      • James

        And when Kuroda has a bad start, I guess he’ll be over the hill too!

      • Gonzalo Hiram

        I agree about CC, he is not a true ace.

        If you think about their roles:
        We didn’t get Kuroda to be our ace so he is doing an excellent job like a No. 2 starter and for a very good price.

        Nova, Hughes and Garcia are doing a good job like your No. 4 and 5 starters, but anyone of them is a very good 3.

        So during playoffs we won’t have an ace and if Pettitte isn’t ready we won’t have a good starter for the third game.

        We’ll have a very nice season and during playoffs anything can happen, we should not act like spoiled fans. Next year Phelps and Pineda could be part of the rotation.
        Somehting crazy for me is how they finished doing with CC the same they did with ARod extending their contracts, those last years are going to be tough with both of them, Ridiculous.

        • Steve (different one)


      • Gonadapus

        What a dumbass comment. Sabathia is a true ace. True, he is not the best pitcher in the AL. Why is Pettitte over the hill? Who put you in charge of keeping a fuckin stopwatch on baseball player’s careers? As long as a pitcher is pitching well, he is not over the hill. I will keep my piece on Hughes, Nova. They are up and down. I have greater faith in Nova than Hughes. What do you want Kuroda to do? Throw faster? JRivera, you are a moron. Nothing personal keep up the solid writing.

        • Jrivera12

          Touchy..Touchy – the truth always hurts doesn’t it!

  • Tim

    I’m not going to say Phelps is an all star but I expect a better performance from him in terms of quality than Lowe. While it will mean an extra 2-3 innings for the bullpen to soak up I would rather have those guys doing that in games that can be won (Dempster and Beckett) than send Lowe out there and pray it’s close after 5 since I wouldn’t trust him for more innings unless they are getting pounded. If a starter is very ineffective in short order this week it will be Lowe’s chance to go out and eat the rest of the game regardless of performance. If Garcia gets shelled for 6 plus in 2 just run Lowe out there for the rest of the game.

    To me it’s 6 of one half dozen of another and I’d rather see Phelps get the start.

  • James

    If Lowe starts, then we probably end up having to bring in Phelps early anyway because the likely result is Lowe won’t make it very deep in the game because of ineffectiveness. Of course you could leave him out there to “take one for the team”, but then you’re kind of punting the game.

    With the loss of C.C., it seems to me Phelps is going to end up throwing a lot of pitches in a non-setup role regardless. It’s just whether he throws 70 pitches in the first four innings or 70 pitches in innings 3-6/4-7.

    I’d probably go with Lowe on a short leash too, but it’s not like we’re saving Phelps for a setup role. First sign of trouble, he’d be the guy to go to. If Lowe isn’t the long guy, then Phelps is, right?

  • Greg

    Remember when we had a whole long list of starters in waiting? And now we have none?

    • James

      Yeah right? Hopefully this doesn’t turn in to the dark days of Tim Redding and Darrell May in Fenway Park!

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Someday people will look back at history and realize that was the nadir of the New York Yankees. Really. Horace Clarke and Chuck Cary were bad dreams compared to that one night.

  • Steve (different one)

    I disagree. I think BECAUSE of Hughes and Nova’s struggles, you give Phelps a shot.

    There seems a nonzero chance, if he pitches well, that he keeps a spot once CC comes back. I hope not, because that would mean Hughes or Nova are struggling, but they have opened the door for the kid.

  • jjyank

    I’d go with Phelps. Having him on a pitch count is only a con if you assume Lowe pitches well enough to go more innings anyway, which is hardly a safe assumption. I don’t like the yo-yo act either, but it is what it is.

    Let’s see what Phelps has got.

    • Slugger27

      i think theres way too much made of the yo-yo act. the guy pitched as a starter out of the minors less than a month ago, so im not overly concerned with the pitch count. hes had a few days to mentally (and otherwise) prepare for this start.

      • jjyank

        I don’t think it’s a problem necessarily, I’m just saying in an ideal world he would stay in one role.

        • Slugger27

          fair enough, agree with you there.

  • Steve (different one)

    There is also the possibility that Lowe does not suck in short bursts. If he picks up a tick or two coming out of the pen, he might be an effective reliever.

  • Hirokichiro

    If Lowe Is going to suck either way the choice becomes whether we lose the game in the first two innings or the last 4. Phelps deserves a shot at spot starting though Texas is probably not the best team to spot start

    • CS Yankee

      Or maybe they are?

      It is said that a pitcher has the advantage the first couple of times until the bats adjust. He might just put Texas into a funk for a couple of days…unlikely, yes (but still better than Lowe)

  • CS Yankee

    Phelps needs the start…these rethreads are somewhat a slap in the face to the farm. Add in that Lowe might need some quality “Larry” time before he gets thrown to the wolves and gets DFA’d.

    Phelps had like 2 IP over a month’s timeframe earlier this year, so if your saving him to be the MRP…that could take a week to happen.

    Give him the next two starts, he won’t melt like cheap butter (i mean Warren) and we just might need him come postseason.

  • Troll Hunter

    I think they should see what Phelps can do the next two starts and if Hughes continue to struggle put Hughes in the pen (where he has none well in the past)and give his spot to Phelps! Win Win!

    • CS Yankee

      Good handle.

      How many kills do you have?

      • Troll Hunter

        Lost count at 250,000

        • jjyank

          Have you ever been in the same thread as “The Troll”?

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    I like Phelps because he has an intangible that they used to call moxie in the old days. He definitely has it. I do believe that he will be allright tonight.

    • CS Yankee

      He isn’t big enough to have “moxie” (think John Wayne) and too clean to be “an animal”.

      He is correctly sized and white enough to have “grit” and can be referred to as a “bull dog”, “hacksaw” or “tug boat”; depending on his demeanor.

      • James

        What about “scrappy”? Or is that just reserved for players in the Eckstein-Pedroia height/complexion range?

        • jjyank

          Yeah, you gotta be short to be scrappy.

          • Get Phelps Up

            And bald. Short and bald = scrappy.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Also, stubble it took you two weeks to grow.

        • CS Yankee

          No on “scrappy”…too clean.

          Also, no on “lawn gnome” or anything that contains the word “mini” due to height.

  • Klemy

    I’d like to see Phelps go and if he pitches well, just stay in the rotation with one of the others leaving it when CC gets back. This could be the chance to see who steps up over the next two times through the rotation. Sure, Phelps could completely fail, but I do trust him more than half of the rotation at the moment. That might be short term memory but, I definitely don’t feel as strongly about keeping him in the bullpen as the article.

  • Rich in NJ

    I think they are making the correct move by starting Phelps because Nova and Hughes have both shown real vulnerability, which may or may not be enduring, so they need a credible fallback option.

    I like watching the development process even if it means winning less games in any given season. It is more fun, imo, than watching a team composed of mostly fungible veterans who had their best seasons with other teams, often years ago.

  • steve s

    Maybe I’ve missed this discussion but why do the Yanks bother giving a chunk of innings to Ramon Ortiz (who has ok numbers in Triple-A) and not give him an opportunuity over a guy like Lowe?

    • Steve (different one)

      1) Lowe is more talented than Ortiz
      2) should the Yankees have known in April that Derek Lowe would get released the same week CC went on the DL? maybe if Lowe doesn’t become available, Ortiz gets a call. Sucks for Ortiz, but a better pitcher became available for nothing.

  • Tom

    CC will be back toward the end of August….

    6 man rotation in Sept? Lighten the load a bit on Kuroda, ease CC back into the rotation, maybe it will help Nova/Hughes (also Hughes threw just ~75 innings last year)

    When Pettitte comes back there are multiple options
    – Phelps or Garcia back to the pen
    – Either Hughes or Nova to the pen if they are ineffective (to see if either will have value in the postseason in the pen)

  • cashthegenius

    can some one please show me anywhere else in all of MLB that a guy with 30 homeruns is batting 6th??????????????

  • Herby

    I think it’s just typical Yankee brain trust in action…send him to the minors so he can build up his innings so you can throw him back in the bullpen so Clueless Joe can use him for a few batters or 1 1/3 innings at most and than do the left-right-left shuffle…if there wasn’t all those 9th inning comebacks in 2009 he’d be sweeping up sunflower seed shells in the Cubs dugout after the games at this point. Should’ve started him long ago and see what you have.

    • Steve (different one)

      IOW, if the Yankees didn’t win all those games, they never would have won the WS? Smart post.

  • crosetti32

    Does anyone know who is starting at 3B for the Yanks tonight? Yankees.com lists Chavez in the lineup at 3B.

  • The Real Greg

    As I mentioned before in another thread, Derek Lowe has one start against the Rangers this year, going 6 innings and giving up two runs, although he gave up 9 hits; 8 singles and a double. So make of that what you will.

    I agree with Phelps starting. Give him a shot.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m fine with Phelps starting tonight. I think it’s good leverage against Lowe’s potentially serving up veteran presents to the other team and allows the Yanks to see what he’s got in the tank, hopefully, under a bit less pressure.

    I could give three shits about the yoyo’ing. It’s like people think God was creating a certain type of arm before Joba Chamberlain was born (B.J.), and a new one afterwords which is just kind of wimpy (A.J.)

    Both those acronyms made me chuckle for different reasons.

    Also, for the love of God, calling a guy who has never pitched past the fifth inning of a major league start our third best starter has to stop. Like, really.

    • jjyank

      “Also, for the love of God, calling a guy who has never pitched past the fifth inning of a major league start our third best starter has to stop. Like, really.”

      The grass is always greener.

    • Steve (different one)

      Like I said, does no one remember Ramiro Mendoza? Pitchers have switched roles during a season before.

  • RI$P FTW

    Give Phelps a shot. Hughes is gone after this year, right? (or am I completely wrong?)
    They should see what they got.

    For 2013, they (should) have: CC, Pineda, Nova, ummm….

    Give Phelps a shot.

    • jjyank

      They still have Hughes for 2013.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      FA after 2013.

  • crosetti32

    Why is Chavez starting at third tonight when McGehee is hitting .323 lifetime vs. Dempster?

    • Pasta Stumbling Sojo

      Because pitcher-batter matchups are meaningless and not predictive.
      He’s 10 for 31 against Dempster in his career. If 2 of those hits had bounced towards a fielder, he’d be batting .258 instead of .323 against him. And that’s ignoring the fact that the situations and skills of each player have varied a lot through the times they’ve faced each other.

  • Pasta Stumbling Sojo

    Because pitcher-batter matchups are meaningless and not predictive.

    He’s 10 for 31 against Dempster in his career. If 2 of those hits had bounced towards a fielder, he’d be batting .258 instead of .323 against him. And that’s ignoring the fact that the situations and skills of each player have varied a lot through the times they’ve faced each other.

    • Pasta Stumbling Sojo

      Oops, this was meant as a reply to crosetti.

  • Gonzalo Hiram

    Hahaha and ha, One more time being negatives with Phelps.

    As I mentioned before if it was Betances or Brackman this post would be very different, Mike would be saying that we got an ace for future years but this kid without that famous big upside is shutting mouths.

    I’m so happy for him

  • Steve (different one)

    Derek Lowe to RAB

    /grabs crotch

  • Wayne

    You’ d rather Phelps turn out to be like Mendoza then a number 3 cause he’ d be less likely to get hurt!!